WASHINGTON - Rosalyn Millman, a 36-year-old economist and former congressional staffer, is now in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater on Wednesday, Oct. 20, named Millman acting administrator of the agency responsible for motor vehicle safety regulation.
She joined the agency just last month as deputy administrator, the No. 2 post, but suddenly found herself in charge when Administrator Ricardo Martinez resigned for a job in the private sector.
Administration officials were not willing to say last week whether Millman is expected to serve in an acting role for the balance of President Clinton's term or whether he will nominate a permanent agency head.
In a brief interview last week, Millman said she was surprised to be plunged immediately into the top job and was busy adapting to her new responsibilities.
'My obligation is to improve safety for the public, and in order to do that we need to rely on the best information we can and make our policies based on that,' she said.
About Millman's preparedness, safety consultant Ralph Hoar said, 'I've got some serious concerns about that. But much of the country had the same concerns about Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton.'
Hoar added: 'Running that agency is not a cakewalk. It's a difficult position for even the heaviest of hitters.'
NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson cautioned against prejudging Millman. 'She brings a different perspective, and I don't think that's an unhealthy thing.'
Congressional staffers who worked with Millman at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee described her as bright, competent, familiar with all the important players on transportation issues and able to work well with Republicans and Democrats.
As a Democratic staff economist, she helped draft provisions of transportation laws enacted over the past six years.
Phil Haseltine, president of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, said Millman takes over at a crucial time. The auto industry is anxious about the final rules on advanced airbags, which are scheduled to be adopted by March 1. He said he is confident companies will offer whatever help they can to get the new administrator 'up to speed as fast as possible.'